By Jo Macfarlane
Last updated at 11:24 PM on 16th October 2010
Health chiefs have for the first time acknowledged that the swine flu jab may be linked to an increased risk of developing a deadly nerve condition.
Experts are examining a possible association between the controversial jab and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, according to a report from official watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Previously, the Government has always stressed there is no evidence to link the paralysing condition to the H1N1 vaccine.
After The Mail on Sunday revealed in August 2009 that doctors were being asked to monitor cases of GBS during the swine flu pandemic, a letter from the Health Protection Agency’s chief executive Justin McCracken stated: ‘There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic.’
Now the MHRA’s newly published report suggests the Government’s position has changed.
It says: ‘Given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be ruled out. Epidemiological studies are ongoing to further assess this possible association.’
It is not known precisely what causes GBS but the condition attacks the lining of the nerves, leaving them unable to transmit signals to muscles effectively.
It can cause partial paralysis and mostly affects the hands and feet – but it can be fatal.
Mother-of-two Hilary Wilkinson, 58, from Maryport, Cumbria, developed GBS following a chest infection and spent three months in hospital learning to walk and talk again.
She said: ‘It’s a frightening illness and I think more research needs to be done on the effect of the swine flu vaccine.’
A vaccine used to combat a different form of swine flu in the US in 1976 led to 25 deaths from the condition, compared with just one death from swine flu itself.
Amid fears there could be a repeat, neurologists were asked to record cases of GBS in the UK swine flu outbreak. Millions of people this year will be exposed to the swine flu vaccine as it has been included within the seasonal flu jab.
Government experts say there is no evidence of an increase in risk similar to 1976, but the MHRA report reveals they are calculating if there might be a smaller raised risk.
The MHRA had 15 suspected GBS cases after vaccination – and six million doses of the swine flu jab Pandemrix were given. It is not known if swine flu or the vaccine could have caused the suspected cases.
A spokeswoman for the MHRA said the risk with the vaccine had not changed and that the report ‘simply expands’ on ongoing GBS analysis.